As the Trade Deadline looms, the St. Louis Cardinals should consider addressing a need that is not getting much attention, the closer role.
Yes, I know what your thinking, Carlos Martinez is doing a fine job as the closer. Yes, he is, and with all the issues in the rotation and lineup, addressing the closer role wouldn’t seem to be a priority at the Trade Deadline. But hear me out on this, because I believe the closer’s role should be addressed immediately. With Jordan Hicks out for at least a year, the St. Louis Cardinals will be looking for someone to take over the closer role for 2020.
If Hicks does return in 2020, he will initially not be the same pitcher we saw before his injury. In fact, there is no guarantee he will ever be the same pitcher he was prior to the injury. That’s the thing with Tommy John surgery, sometimes players eventually return better than ever and sometimes they are never the same pitcher again.
Additionally, with the starting rotation struggling to go deep in games, the bullpen has been stretched. This has recently been the case for the closer’s role that is occupied by Martinez.
So it seems prudent for the Cardinals to make a move at the Trade Deadline to strengthen the close role. There are two good candidates for the Cardinals to consider. One is the Giant’s Will Smith and the other is the White Sox’s Alex Colome. Both could fill the Closer’s role, however, each has their own positives and negatives as far as the Cardinals are concerned.
The ‘Will Smith to the Cardinals’ rumor has been floating around since the last off-season. The Giants are expected to sell at the Trade Deadline and reportedly, Smith is one of the pieces they are willing to move.
The left-handed Smith currently holds a 2.55 ERA with 24 saves in 2019, and he was named to the 2019 All-Star team after converting his first 23 saves attempts. The 30-year-old has only given up 11 walks in 42 innings pitched and his SO/9 of 13.4 is the highest of his career.
In his seven-year MLB career, the Newnan Georgia native has only 39 saves. He was initially just a left-handed specialist until 2018 when he was first used as a set-up man and eventually converted into a closer.
The disadvantage in pursuing Smith is he will be a free agent at the end of the season. Therefore he may only be a rental if the Cardinals don’t re-sign him. Also, he will be a highly sought after commodity at the Trade Deadline and won’t come cheap.
Nevertheless, the Cardinals have been inconsistent from the left-handed side of their bullpen and Smith could help a lot. Currently, Andrew Miller is the first choice coming out of the bullpen and after a tough start, he is beginning to show signs of why the Cardinals signed him.
In his last 15 games, he has a 3.48 ERA, to bring his 2019 ERA down to 3.88. However, the other current option in the Cardinal Bullpen is just Tyler Webb (4.45 ERA).
The 30-year-old Colome is another player who has been on the Cardinals radar in the past. The right-hander currently holds a 2.33 ERA with 21 saves thus far in 2019. He has only one blown save and a SO/9 of 7.0 with a BB/9 of 2.8.
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Like Carlos Martinez, Colome inherited the closer role due to injuries when he was with Tampa Bay in 2016 and saved 37 games. The following year he saved 47 games, becoming only the sixth player in franchise history to do so.
In May 2018, he was traded to the Seattle Mariners and in November traded to the White Sox, where he resumed his closer role. In seven years, the Dominican Republic native has a 3.04 ERA and saved 117 games with an 85.4% save percentage.
Colome would unlikely be as costly to acquire as Smith. In fact, CBS Sports recently posted a piece that said the Cardinals could acquire Colome for a mid-level prospect. And unlike Will Smith, Colome will not be a free agent until 2020, giving the Cards another year of his services.
The Martinez Dilemma
As I write this Carlos Martinez was thrown into another save situation last night in Pittsburgh. After a Paul Goldschmidt grand slam, the Cardinals entered the bottom of the tenth with a four-run lead. However, Chasen Shreve struggled and Carlos was called in again for another save attempt.
It took him 15 pitches, 3 hits, and one earned runs to get his ninth save and a Cardinal victory.
The problem isn’t the number of games or innings Carlos has been called upon recently, but the pitches he has been required throw. In the last week, the Cardinals starting pitching has been struggling to get past 5 innings, and the bullpen has been taxed. With several close games recently, Martinez has been called upon for save situations in most of them. 15 pitches last night, 21 pitches on Wednesday, 27 pitches on Friday, and 19 pitches on Sunday, it’s adding up to a worn-out Carlos Martinez.
Without another reliably option to turn to in the ninth inning, these extended outings by Carlos will likely catch up with the Cardinals.
To Wrap up…
The St. Louis Cardinals need to prioritize addressing the close role at the trade deadline for the following reasons:
(1) They need another closer option coming out the bullpen. If the games continue to be close and the starters continue to struggle to get through five innings, then acquiring a Will Smith or Alex Colome would be necessary to stay in the NL Central race.
(2) Smith and Colome are better suited as closers than CMart. Both are adapted to the role and have more late-game experience than Martinez does at this point.
(3) With Smith or Colome in the BP, it would allow Mike Shildt more flexibility to mix and match, depending on the situation.
(4) In the case of Alex Colome, the Cardinals would control him through 2020. Having Colome as the designated closer for 2020 allows the Cardinals the option to return Martinez to a starting role.
Whether it’s Will Smith or Alex Colome, or even another option, the St Louis Cardinals should make the closer position a Trade Deadline priority.